Chicago is all about meat.  Chicago Beef hot dogs.  The Bulls.  The Bears.  Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.  So naturally, on a recent semi-professional jaunt with Prof. M, we sought out some excellent vegetarian food with photo power-couple LKB+BEM.  Our destination: Green Zebra.  Our lament: how can there not be a modern American veggie restaurant anywhere near this good in the greater Peoples Republic of Cambridge area?  (Feel free to skip directly to the comments to point our my oversight on this count, I’ll be doing a rollup [sic] of high-end veggie options around Boston in a future post.)

Green Zebra is a real find in an unassuming Chicago neighborhood, not so far from a place that advertises burritos “as big as your head.”  Orthodox vegetarians and vegans be warned, it’s not 100% vegetarian (there’s usually one seafood item on the menu, scallops this time) and there’s plenty of butter, eggs and cheese.  I don’t know how many dishes were strictly vegan, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed with dairy as sometimes happens with Indian vegetarian food, at least in the USA.

We enjoyed an array of small plates and my camera skills declined as the evening wore on and bottles were drained, so I can’t say for 100% certain that these items are exactly as labeled.  They aren’t really in order either, but there were to a plate, delicious and beautifully constructed. I would single out the spinach crepe with oyster mushrooms as a standout, but the field was very competitive.

Amuse: Turnip Apple Puree Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Terrine, hazelnuts, brown butter vinagrette The mushroom special BBQ black eyed pea dumpling, hoisin, ginger, chinese mustard, scallion Sunchoke Ravioli, grilled leeks, medjool dates, preserved lemon, quail egg Rye Spatzle, kraut, smoked carmelized onion, caraway, stout foam Fresh Burrata Cheese, satsuma tangerines, salted cucumbers, pumpernickel Grilled Mu Shu, eggplant, cucumber, spring onion, peppers, pickles Something with Leeks, it was a special not on the menu Slow Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms, crispy potato, savoy cabbage Creamed spinach filled crepe, oyster mushrooms, confit artichoke, parmesan Roasted brussels sprouts & apples; spiced hush puppies with 7 yr cheddar Salty chocolate brioche! Pot de Creme Bruce's dessert, I think it was key lime pie

The waitstaff surely thought us mad, cackling with glee as we divided even the smallest plate in four.  Green Zebra isn’t cheap, it’s certainly a special occasion place, but if you don’t live in Chicago, every time you visit is arguably a special occasion.  Meat eaters might question the bill with “that much for just vegetables?” but we were more than satisfied.  If I had to give a down note in my review, I would say that the place is a little too quiet, as if full of monks gravely consuming their gruel.  Food in general is worth celebrating, and food this good deserves some hoopla.  One could also quibble that the ingredients couldn’t possibly all be local or seasonal (tangerines in Chicago in February?) but I hope that at least some were from the great farms of the midwest.

So… back in Boston, we ponder the conundrum: how can such vegetarian excellence exist in the midst of cattle country and but not here in enlightened liberal studentopolis?

Surely the demand exists.  Students might not be able to afford the likes of Green Zebra often, but their parents must visit sometimes.  Organic food, yoga studios, Buddhist temples, pet spas all suggest affluent vegetarians are about.

Surely the raw materials exist.  Farms and farmers markets thrive.  Locovorism is on the rise.  Even accounting for

Surely the talent is here.  Boston ranks well for both density and quality of restaurants and boasts some top-notch culinary schools.

Surely the business model is proven.  Restaurants are tough business no matter what, but low-end vegetarian restaurants get by, and high-end omnivore joints too, so why couldn’t a high-end veggie place?  Green Zebra seems to have no trouble with high prices and full tables.

I’m at a loss, and it’s Boston’s loss too.  Until then, when you’re in Chicago, be sure to balance out your beef intake with a visit to Green Zebra.